A six-word tweet was all it took for Mohamed Salah to set the tone ahead of the Champions League final.
Real Madrid were still on the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu, celebrating their remarkable semi-final comeback against Manchester City, when Liverpool’s Egyptian star delivered his straight-to-the-point message on social media.
“We have a score to settle,” he wrote. No room for ambiguity there.
Salah, in fact, had made his feelings perfectly clear the previous night, following Liverpool’s own victory over Villarreal.
Asked, pitchside, by BT Sport whether he would now prefer to face Real or City in the final, he was unequivocal.
“If you ask me personally, I want to play Madrid,” he said, that familiar smile spreading across his face. “Because we lost in the final against them.”
The honesty is refreshing. How many footballers would have dodged the question with some platitudes about “two tough opponents” or how “the only thing that matters is ourselves.”
Salah didn’t. He wanted Madrid. He has wanted Madrid since 2018.
"It's great to be in the final for the third time in five years."— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 3, 2022
"I want to play Real Madrid, I have to be honest."
"Hopefully we'll win it from them as well."
Mo Salah has his heart set on mending Liverpool's 2018 #UCL heartbreak 😤 pic.twitter.com/2MhLfMgYjv
Liverpool may have moved on, gloriously, from that night in Kyiv four years ago, but Salah still remembers it vividly.
It’s why he will be more motivated than ever when he runs out at the Stade de France on Saturday night – “motivated through the roof!” as he put it this week.
He remembers the pain of the shoulder injury which forced him to leave the field before half-time in Kyiv.
“It was the worst moment of my career,” he said on Wednesday. “I never felt that way before in football.”
He remembers the helplessness as, without him, Liverpool fell short in their quest for glory. He remembers the bitterness and the anger as Sergio Ramos, the villain of the piece, revelled in his misery afterwards.
He remembers the tears and the numbness, the appallingly-timed selfie request from Nusret ‘Salt Bae’ Gokce outside the dressing room.
Talk about a defining image. Salah has his arm in a sling, a Liverpool tracksuit draped around his neck and an attention-seeker best known for extravagantly sprinkling salt on overpriced steaks mugging it to the camera beside him.
No wonder he is sporting a thousand-yard stare.
He looked back on that photograph while preparing for the following year’s final against Tottenham.
“I thought I needed to remember it,” he told reporters after Liverpool’s 2-0 win, in which he had scored the opening goal. “I used it as motivation.”
We should not, then, be surprised that he has been so open in admitting his desire for payback this time around, even if the man he would really like to get one over on, Ramos, left Real for Paris Saint-Germain last summer.
Some have criticised Salah for his public comments.
Dietmar Hamann, a Champions League winner with Liverpool in 2005, suggested he should have done his talking after the game.
Jordan Henderson laughed when asked about the idea of revenge in a press conference on Wednesday.
“You didn’t mean it, did you, Mo?” laughed the Reds captain as Salah, who was sitting beside him, simply grinned.
Jurgen Klopp, too, was asked about Salah’s “extra motivation”.
“I don’t believe in revenge but I understand it,” he replied. “And I understand what Mo said. He wants to put it right. We all do.”
Salah is likely to be key if Liverpool are to reverse the result from Kyiv, but it is fair to say his form has slowed of late.
His goal against Wolves last Sunday was his 31st of the season in all competitions, and secured him his third Premier League Golden Boot in the process, but he has netted just four times in 19 appearances since February, having scored 27 in 31 prior to that.
For some players that might be a concern, but not to Salah, whose ability to switch himself onto the next challenge is one of the things that marks him out as a special talent.
“In my mind, I am always trying to think positive all the time,” he said on Wednesday.
He has already visualised the moment Henderson lifts the Champions League trophy aloft in Paris. “Hopefully he will then give it to me!” he smiled.
Of all the battles which could decide the outcome of the final, the contest between Liverpool’s right flank and Real Madrid’s left could be the most significant.
If Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold fire, then Klopp’s side should prosper. If not, the Reds could suffer at the hands of the brilliant Vinicus Junior.
Whatever happens, it promises to be intriguing, Liverpool looking to complete a magnificent cup treble, Real Madrid seeking to add European Cup No.14 to La Liga title No.35.
Paris will be bouncing; an explosion of colour, a clash of styles and a meeting of two genuine heavyweights.
And this time, Salah will be hoping he is the one who lands the knockout punch.